If Bailey Baxter had one Christmas wish, it would be that Christmas didn't come around so fast. Holidays made it so damn hard to get any work done. Not that Bailey was a Grinch or a Scrooge. He was genuinely one of the nicest guys you could wish to meet. He was just busy! And now here it was again, already Christmas Eve, and Bailey was already swearing never to do this shit again. Actually, as he bolted along the ice-slicked pavement toward his apartment building, trying as hard as he could not to break his damn neck, he was just swearing--period.
"Fuck! Shit! Fuck!"
In one hand he clutched his computer satchel as tightly as he could, in the other he clutched his phone, his thumb scrolling desperately through the directory in search of a 24-hour electrician while he prayed not to slip on the ice and smash both computer and phone... and anything else.
His jeans were soaked from the knees down. His scarf, tie and overcoat flapped in the winter wind. He raced across 28th to the blast of a horn and the bouncing headlights of a braking car.
He sprinted underneath one of his own billboards, a gorgeous semi-naked female model in a flurry of snow advertising Glace, the holiday season's fastest-selling fragrance.
He jumped a fluffy Pomeranian in a diamante coat being walked by a woman dressed exactly the same. The startled dog yelped.
"Hey, did you just kick my dog!?" the woman screamed.
"No, I jumped it," Bailey called back, still running. "I would never hurt your dog. I love dogs. I just don't love Christmas!"
He turned back and kept running, and was suddenly blinded by the flash of a camera. A random pic taken by one Japanese tourist of his travelling companion--with Bailey bolting by in the background.
And whether he liked it or not, this was the perfect snapshot of Bailey Baxter.
At twenty-eight, Bailey was the youngest creative director for one of Manhattan's most prestigious advertising firms, a slave to his career, coming up with ideas that made his clients millions. If Bailey was great at one thing, it was selling dreams. And he did it by selling sex.
Whether his target audience was male or female, whether his models were waif-like women or well-hung hunks, this kid from Jersey who had worked his ass off, from the mailroom all the way to the top floor knew one thing--sex sells.
It sells fragrances like Glace.
It sells underwear.
It sells cars.
It sells soft drinks.
For fuck's sake, it even sells the ice-cream that these models would rather choke on than swallow.
Yes, Bailey Baxter had become a master of selling sex--
--yet it was the one thing he couldn't get. Not that anyone would necessarily consider him a loser in love. It was just never a race he entered. He was always too busy winning clients and accounts. Love was the one thing that damn phone of his never found time to squeeze into his schedule.
Dammit, all Bailey Baxter wanted for Christmas was more hours in the day!
And yet here he was, trying to please everyone again, racing home early and potentially blowing a client pitch at Oishi Sashimi Bar just to take part in his stupid neighbors' stupid dream of turning their entire apartment building into an illuminated Christmas tree with a co-ordinated attempt to turn everyone's fire-escape balconies into the lit-up branches of a Christmas tree--
--with Bailey's fire-escape being the star at the top of the tree, considering his apartment was on the top floor.
"What a stupid dream!" he panted under his breath as he rounded the corner to his apartment building--
--and slid into the electric glow of a giant Christmas tree, or at least the shape of one, blinking down from the balcony railings of every fire escape.
"Fuck!" he swore again, scrolling through the phone numbers of electricians even faster.
"Yeah, hi, I need someone urgently to help me--"
"Sorry sir, we're closed for the day."
Bailey scrolled down further. "Yeah, hey there, I'm kinda desperate to get some Christmas lights up--"
"You can't put your own fuckin' Christmas lights up?"
"Well, there's lot of them, and there's lots of people wanting me to get this right, and I don't really have time to mess this up but I've left my account manager in charge of an important meeting and I need to get back there as soon as I... hello?... hello?"
Bailey frantically scrolled up and down and back again. "Hi, Nick's Electrics? I need help. I have some lights. Just a few lights. I need to get them up. And working. And doing that whole flashing, red and green Christmas thing. All in the next--" he quickly checked his watch, "--90 minutes so I can get to Oishi's and close a pitch to a really important client. So I really need some help because I tried putting those damn lights up last night and it was like a game of Twister between me and a bunch of wires, and now my neighbors are kinda depending on me to pull this off and--"
"We'll have someone there straight away."
Bailey gasped. He was so stunned he finally did drop his phone.
It cracked on the icy pavement.
He clutched it up with another gasp. "Oh fuck! Fuck, oh fuck!" He jabbed at every button his frozen finger could punch. "Oh, sweet baby Jesus! I'm fucked without my baby!"
Bailey charged straight into his apartment building, nothing but his broken phone on his mind. Everything else was turning into mayhem in the mist of his brain. The post-pitch meeting. The debrief. The execution of the campaign that he emailed to the client rather than presenting it direct, just so he could finally, for once, be the man his neighbors cherished--rather than the man who rushed by them on the stairs everyday with a wisp of a smile and the distracted look of a man who had more pressing things to do in the next... 86 minutes.
Like a skate he slid along the lobby floor on his ice slicked shoes and rattled the cage door of the elevator in frustration when he saw the note stuck to it-- Out of Order. Again.
He took the stairs three at a time.
On the second floor a woman in her sixties opened her door and beamed at the sight of him. "Oh Bailey, I thought that might be you bouncing up the stairs."
"Yes, Mrs. Getz, it's me. In kind of a hurry."
"As always, you poor dear. Do you think you'll be able to get your lights up tonight? It's Christmas Eve after all. Better late than never, hey?"
"That's the plan," Bailey said, not stopping, charging up at the stairs to the third floor where an elderly gentleman with a pipe opened his door, releasing the pea soup fog that had been trapped inside.
"Bailey, my boy, when are those damn lights of yours going up? It's Christmas Eve, for Christ's sake!"
"I know, Mr. Jablonsky," Bailey coughed as he raced through the cloud of smoke. "Any minute now. I promise."
"We'll be waitin' outside to see!"
Bailey was starting to sweat now, more from the expectation than the exercise.
On the fourth floor the sweet old Spencer sisters, Esther and Evie, were already waiting at their door.
"Oh Bailey, we're so excited Christmas is finally here," Esther gushed.
Evie nodded. "And we're so excited about your lights."
"Well I'm glad you are, because I sure as hell--" Before he could say what was really on his mind and crush the sisters' Christmas spirit forever, Bailey bit his tongue and finally stopped running. He sighed and said, "--because I sure as hell... am excited too. And hopefully those lights of mine won't disappoint anyone. To be honest, I'm hoping for a miracle."
"Oh, he's already there," Esther said matter-of-factly.
"Yes," Evie confirmed. "He arrived a few minutes ago. He's waiting at your door."
"Very handsome," Esther whispered with a naughty wink.
"We keep wishing for you, Bailey," Evie added.
"Wait a minute. The electrician's already here?"
"Yes, dear," the sisters said in unison.
As Bailey made his way up the last flight of stairs to the top floor, he spotted a step ladder and toolbox sitting beside his front door, and beside those was a pair of boots.
His eyes scanned upward.
Up the pair of jeans, loose and low.
Up to a tool-belt weighed down with tools.
Up to a shirt, unbuttoned to mid-chest, sleeves scrunched up around thick-veined forearms.
Then finally to the handsome face the Spencer sisters spoke of, on top of which sat a cap with Nick's Electrics embroidered on it and thick blond tufts jutting out from under it.
The electrician's chiselled jaw squared off to accommodate a large white smile. "Evenin' sir. I believe you called for some help. Name's Gabe."
As Bailey reached his front door he shook the electrician's hand. "Bailey. God, am I glad to see you. Please come in."
Bailey fumbled with his keys and broken phone before dropping them both. He quickly crouched to retrieve them, as did Gabe at the same time.
"Here, let me get those for you."
"It's okay, thanks, I got 'em."
"I guess your phone's seen better days."
"I can be kinda clumsy sometimes." Bailey laughed awkwardly. "Happens when I'm stressed. Which is more often all the time rather than sometimes."
"The trick is to slow down. Take it easy, things will get done in their own time. If you race through life you miss the view out the window."
"Well if you could help me turn the view outside my window into a big bright Christmas star in the next... 79 minutes, that'd be great." Bailey immediately pulled himself up. "I'm sorry. That was rude of me. I didn't mean to be rude."
Gabe shook his head good-naturedly. "You're not rude. You're just... rushed."
Bailey managed to turn the lock, push open his door and flick on the lights to his apartment. "I hope you're as understanding and patient as you seem."
He gestured into the apartment and Gabe's eyes widened at the sight of the tumbleweed of Christmas lights sitting on the floor in the middle of the living room.
"Like I said," Bailey shrugged apologetically. "I tried."
Gabe simply smiled, picked up his toolbox and step ladder, and walked confidently into Bailey's apartment. "Let's get you untangled, shall we?"
While Gabe knelt beside his toolbox and began unloading tools, Bailey--feeling suddenly guilty at the mess he'd made for the handsome tradesman--put down his computer, his broken phone and attempted to pick up the twisted ball of wires trying to unravel an end.
"I know this is kind of supposed to be easy," he said, taking a twirled strand in one hand, "and I know millions of people do this every year, but I'm just not used to... Christmas." He turned in a circle to grab another end, and the wire snaked around his torso. "You see, my neighbors have this stupid dream of turning the outside of our building into a big Christmas tree. They've all lined their fire escapes with green lights that kind of zigzag all the way up here."
Bailey turned again, entwining himself in lights even more. "Now it's up to me to..."
He pirouetted again and made things worse.
"...to finish the job..."
He twisted right, left, until he could barely move at all.
"...with a beautiful big star on top."
With one last effort to unpluck the web of wires, Bailey successfully tied himself into a complete knot. That's when he let out an exasperated sigh.
Gabe stood with a, "Whoa, whoa, slow down. You're rushing things again. Just stay still for me for one moment."
Without a second's warning, the electrician placed one large hand on Bailey's right hip to stop him from struggling.
It worked instantly.
Bailey froze and caught his breath.